Recommendations: Carving Tools

I often get asked for recommendations of what tools to buy from people interested in beginning wood carving. It can be a confusing process – there are many good brands and hundreds of profiles to choose from. A lot of people start by buying a big set of tools for a large sum of money, which can work, but you often end up with tools right out of the gate that have profiles that will only be useful from time to time, or perhaps not at all for the kind of carving you will be doing. When you have limited funds to spend on tools it is important to get a good mix of useful profiles to begin with to avoid the frustration of not having what you need to get started carving wood.

I am a primarily a relief carver, and I work almost exclusively in softer woods: basswood, butternut, mahogany and walnut. These woods, in most instances, don’t require the use of a mallet to move the tool blade through the wood the way species like oak, cherry and maple require. When starting out buying tools, take into consideration what types of woods you plan on carving – palm handled tools can’t be driven with a mallet, so if you want to carve harder woods you will need to buy tools with the appropriate handles.

When I started carving I had 6 to 8 Pfeil brand carving tools, all with palm handle grips, and I created the carving above – you would be surprised how versatile a #1 skew double bevel tool can be! I added more of the palm tools, a few at a time, until I had most of the profiles available, and used those exclusively for the first few years I carved. This was a good way for me to start carving relatively inexpensively, adding tools from time to time when I had some extra money. The more interested I became in carving and the more complex the carving designs became, I realized it was time to expand the tools I was working with, and it was then that I started adding Pfeil intermediate and full sized carving tools to my collection.

Based on this experience, I put together a list of 12 carving tools (shown above) that I feel are a good place to start for doing the kind of relief carving I like to do. These are the profiles I use the most, every carving, and if I only had these 12 tools I could get a lot accomplished. They are, from left to right: palm skew double bevel 1/8mm; fishtail 1/16mm; intermediate 2/5mm; intermediate 2/12mm; full size 2/30mm; intermediate 3/8mm; palm 3/12mm; fishtail 3/25mm; full size 5/5mm; intermediate 8/4mm; palm 12/1mm; palm 12/8mm.

If you are looking to expand upon these starter tools the following selection of tools will add nicely to the versatility of your collection – shown above, from left to right: palm skew double bevel 1/12mm; fishtail 1/25mm; palm 5/3mm; fishtail 5/16mm; fishtail 5/25mm; intermediate 7/4mm; fishtail 7/16mm; intermediate 8/10mm; palm 9/10mm; full size 9/13mm; palm 11/1mm; full size 11/7mm.

I recommend the palm tools and intermediate Pfeil tools because they are less expensive, but also because the smaller handles are a better fit for my small hands. If you have larger hands, or if you work with harder species of wood, these handle styles may not be the best choice for you. I use Pfeil tools almost exclusively because they are easily available in a wife range of profiles, and are excellent quality tools. There are other brands of professional carving tools that are going to work just as well: Henry Taylor, Two Cherries, Auriou, and others. Remember that any tool is only as good as your sharpening skills!

You can find Pfiel tools through Woodcraft in the US, and other fine carving tools through Lee Valley, and other similar online specialty stores.

For more information about beginning woodcarving resources I have put up a page HERE of book and sharpening recommendations.

 

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Rune of Courage

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In the weeks following the election I have been overwhelmed with fear for the future. I’ve had a difficult time finding words to describe how I feel, or discussing those feelings with friends and family. As a way to break out of this tail-chasing cycle of fear I began trying to imagine the courage I will need to move forward – trying to imagine what that would feel like. For inspiration I sought out voices that speak about courage, and I came across a quote by Susan Sontag on the Brain Pickings blog:

“Courage inspires communities: the courage of an example — for courage is as contagious as fear.”

From this thought process the idea of carving a rune of courage came to me – I thought the process of creating something that represents courage might help me move through the fear. I carved the rune shown above as an exercise – a meditation of sorts, and I can actually say that the process has helped me. I created this particular rune based on a runic alphabet that I designed for use in my artwork – you can see some previous examples in my Old Woman of the Night and Flow Back carvings. This rune is entirely invented – it is not based on any particular historic rune. It isn’t an entirely arbitrary design – I put some serious thought into it – but it does not posses any inherent mystical power, any traditional significance, other than what I as the maker or you as the viewer are able to ascribe to it. And that is the power I was hoping to find – to use this tangible object as a focal point outside of myself to manifest the courage that I already posses within.

I carved this particular Rune of Courage from a small piece of Alaskan Yellow Cedar – 3.5″ X 6″. I was inspired by an artist on Instagram who auctioned off a piece of her beautiful artwork and donated the money to charity. I offered my rune up on Instagram and Facebook in a similar way, to someone who was willing to make a minimum of $100 donation to a non-profit doing the good work that needs support (now more than ever), in areas of LGBTQ services, climate change, women’s health, and civil liberties. The response I got was that someone donated $400 – $100 to non-profits from each of the four categories. This too made me feel more courageous.

I have carved another Rune of Courage, shown below, and will offer that up in the same way. And when that one is spoken for I will carve another, and another, and I will keep making these as long as there is interest.

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Here’s how it works:

I am hoping that my small exercise in finding courage will find a way to become contagious.

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Flow Back: The Return of the Atlantic Salmon

Flow Back: The completed carving.

I recently completed a carving called Flow Back, inspired by the return of the wild Atlantic salmon to the Connecticut River. I read (this article) about how, against all odds, several salmon had returned to spawn last November after an absence of 200 years, even after a decades-long effort to return the fish to the river had been abandoned in 2012. I used this story of the resiliency of nature as the inspiration for the design for Flow Back, using elements of the La Tène style to create spiraling elements to capture the energy reflected in this species drive to survive.

I created this piece in Honduran mahogany using traditional wood carving methods. My use of power tools is minimal – in this carving I used a band saw to cut the shape of the wood from a planed board. All other work was done using hand tools – files, gouges, chisels and carving knives – to complete the carving. My method of working creates a carving that is finished from the tool – meaning there is no sanding of the wood to finish the piece, only the individual cuts from the sharp tools. This leaves a subtly rippled texture to the surface of the wood that can best be appreciated in raking light. The carving is sealed with linseed oil, with a coating of bees wax to protect the finish.

The finished carving measures 16″ wide by 19″ high and is 1 1/8″ thick. It is approximately life size when measured along the full length of the fish. Flow Back is currently available for sale and will be listed in the Ninth Wave Designs Etsy shop soon. Please message me using the contact form in the menu at the top of the page, under the “About” heading if you are interested in owning this one-of-a-kind wood carving.

The photo gallery below documents the stages of the carving process:

 

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Categories: Wood Carving | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sociable

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I have recently expanded my online experience to include Twitter and would be very happy to have you follow along: @LisaLaughy

If you haven’t discovered me on Instagram yet you can find me @ninthwavedesigns.

And as always, I am on Facebook at Ninth Wave Designs.

You can always find links to these accounts and others in the sidebar. I post more frequently to these social media accounts than I do this blog, so they are good way to see project progress, ask questions, and otherwise converse about woodcarving, art, and life.

 

 

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Tree-of-Life Cross

I recently created a small carving of a Celtic Cross at the request of a friend. I had the end section left over from the board I used to create the Dragestil mantel carving, a particularly lovely piece of Spanish cedar, and it was the perfect size for this project.

This photograph shows the cross shape cut out from the wood, with the design penciled in.  This cross design features a design motif seen in the Book of Kells called Tree-of-Life, which involves a trefoil vine that emerges from trumpets that spiral around the center. The pencils in the picture provide a good sense of the small scale of this carving.
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Below is the carving in its completed stage, prior to the addition of the oil finish. Around the cross are a few of the carving tools I used to create this carving.

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This final photograph shows how the wood has darkened after the application of the oil and wax finish. It was photographed against the backdrop of a page from the Book of Kells, an evangelist cross-carpet page from folio 27 verso of the celebrated illuminated manuscript.

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The finished height of this carving is only 8 inches, so is smaller than the typical carvings I create. I am planning on creating another carving along this line at a larger scale, as I think this design will work in that larger format as well. I will post an update once I have the chance to work on it.

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Viking Dragon Guardian

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The Viking Dragon Guardian wood carving is now available for sale in the Ninth Wave Designs Etsy store. Hand carved in beautiful mahogany wood, I completed this carving last winter and am now making it available for sale. This carving is inspired by the art and style of the Viking Age – I created this original design from studying early medieval Irish metalwork artifacts that were themselves influenced by the art brought to Ireland by the Viking invasions.

This carving is completely hand carved from Honduran mahogany wood and measures 15 1/2″ high by 6″ wide and is 3/4″ thick. This wood has a beautifully rich dark red-brown color. The carving is tool finished, without any sanding, and has an oil and wax finish. There is a brass hanging hook mounted on the back of the carving.

Here are some additional photographs of the carving, or see the listing on Etsy by following the link HERE.

 

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Dragestil

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The Dragestil wood carving that I featured in my previous blog post was started in November of 2015 and I worked on it over time between other carving projects, completing it at the end of July this year. I like to keep a visual record of the process while working on a carving, posting pictures to my NWD Facebook and Instagram accounts, but the pace of this project resulted in pictures being spread out over the course of many months. I gathered the best of the images together in the gallery/slideshow below to provide a cohesive representation of the process of creating this carving.

As with most of my carvings, the idea for this design came from an historical source. I am fascinated by the Norwegian Stave church woodcarvings, as well as the idea that the elaborately carved portals in these churches provide a liminal space – dividing the outside world of daily life from the interior world of spiritual life. The symbols and themes of these church carvings are interestingly and undeniably pagan, and include warriors fighting dragons, stylized serpents and beasts, all wrapped in and around the swirling tendrils of plant life.

I began my design by looking at a plant motif from one of the Borgund Stave Church portals, and adapting it from plant to beast – transforming the spirals with the addition of stylized dragon heads. I designed this carving to accent a fireplace mantel – to guard the hearth and add a sense of warmth and protection to the home. You can follow the carving process from beginning design to final finished carving in the photographs gathered below.

 

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Living With Craft

The Dragestil carving hanging on the mantel.

I am very happy to be participating for the first time in the Annual Craftsmen’s Fair held by the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen in Sunapee, NH. This is the first fair since I became a juried League member last fall, and although I won’t have a booth at the fair, I will have my Dragestil carving (shown above with the Marriage Shield carving) in the Living With Craft exhibition. The League of NH Craftmen’s blog post describes the Living With Craft exhibition in this way:

More than 200 handcrafted works are creatively arranged in a series of vibrant and cohesive room vignettes. As you view the furniture, accessories, wall-hangings, sterling silver tableware, and lighting fixtures, you’ll be able to imagine them in your home.

If you are able to attend the Craftsmen’s Fair between August 6th – 14th, please be sure to visit the Living With Craft exhibition as let me know what you think in the comments below. There are so many varied and talented crafts-people represented at the Fair, it is an honor to have one of my carvings exhibited among them.

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Triple Raven Tele-Style Guitar Update

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I am very pleased to share this picture of the front and back of the fully assembled Triple Raven Tele-style guitar. It is so exciting for me to see the finished product, to be able to see my carving transformed into this wonderful completed electric guitar.

My part in this project involved carving and finishing the body, which I turned over to my brother who expertly completed the building of the guitar. The matching neck is made from Honduran mahogany and has an ebony fret board with mother-of-pearl inlays. The control knobs also have mother-of-pearl insets, and the graphite color of the saddle and pickup compliments the ebony on the neck and adds a nice contrast with the chrome plates. The report is in, and it sounds as good as it looks!

We have plans going forward to build more guitars from the intricately hand carved bodies created from my original designs. Use the contact form if you would like to be notified when the next guitar becomes available. I can’t wait to get started!

You can read the original blog posts about this project and see photos of the carving process by following these links:

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Telling You a New and Different Story

I recently came across this video interview of one of my teachers from college days, and now a far away (and not forgotten) friend: Emily Zabransky.

This is a delightful interview, and a wonderful glimpse into some of the human beauty that Emily brings to her teaching experiences. I particularly like what she has to say about the difference between art and craft, in relation to working in clay, starting at 10:30 in the video:

“Ceramics can be a craft, but it can also be a work of art, and I guess a work of art is something that you see it, and you get a certain sense of it, but then when you look back again you get more, and you find different things, and it grows on you, and it is always telling you a new and different story. Craft I think it tends to be more functional, it can be beautiful but, you get it all at once.”

I imagine that most creative folks have their own individual idea of how to define the elusive point where craft transforms into art. I don’t think that it is a distinct definition between these two states of creativity, but more a transition that occurs along a continuum. I strive to make that transition in the wood carvings I create. It is important to me to communicate some of the thoughts and feelings and emotions that are my personal experiences of creating the work itself, but it is even more important if I can succeed in connecting my experiences with those who see my work, in a way that leaves them with something that is uniquely their own. Then it does become a new and different story, and when it happens, it is nothing less than magical.

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